A 67-year-old man from Marble Falls, who was a vendor at the East Texas State Fair, has come forward as having had Legionnaires’ disease.

The state health department has confirmed that seven people have the disease that mimics pneumonia, and five others have symptoms. All were at the East Texas State Fair.

Last week Ruben Gutierrez, 69, of Tyler, who worked in a Democratic Party information booth inside Harvey Convention Center during the fair, died of complications stemming from the disease.

Bob Brown, of Marble Falls, said Wednesday he is recovering after being hospitalized for nearly a week with Legionnaires’ disease.

He and two others operated a kettle corn food concession that was located just outside of Harvey Convention Center.

On the last day of the fair, Brown said he got sick.

“I had a high temperature. I was dehydrated. I had never felt that bad in my life,” Brown said in a phone interview from his home.

Concerned about his deteriorating health, he went to a Tyler hospital. He said medical personnel told him he had pneumonia and began treating him with antibiotics.

Although not fully recovered, Brown said he felt good enough to return home to Marble Falls.

In Marble Falls, he went to an emergency room and was admitted into a hospital. He said he was there for nearly a week.

“I had a 105-degree temperature and was weak,” Brown said.

After he was released from the hospital, he said a friend who knew he had been at the East Texas State Fair told him about the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.

“I immediately called the health department (NET Health),” he said. “They told me I needed to get tested.”

Brown said he went to a doctor and that tests confirmed he had suffered from the disease.

Legionnaires’ disease is contracted by inhaling water droplets that are contaminated by a bacteria. Most people who are healthy have immune systems that can fight off the disease, health officials said.

Those who have respiratory problems, are older than 50 and have weakened immune systems are more likely to contract the disease after exposure.

“The more I found out about it the more I realized I checked all the boxes,” Brown said, noting that he has COPD and is in the target age group for getting Legionnaires’ disease.

“I checked off all the boxes,” of being in the target group, Brown said.

Terrence Ates, a spokesman for NET Health, the local health department, said that in the weeks after the fair, the state began receiving reports of Legionnaires’ disease.

All of those who were sick had attended the fair, Ates said.

The health department sent out an advisory telling people who had symptoms of pneumonia and who had been at the fair to see a doctor, and for doctors to ask any patient with such symptoms whether they attended the fair Sept. 20-29.

More than 250,000 people attended the fair during its annual run, fair officials said earlier.

Health officials in Tyler working in conjunction with the Texas Department of Health Services are still trying to find the source of the contaminated water.

Ventilation systems, sprinklers, humidifiers, misters and hot tubs can all be sources of such water droplets.

Ates has said that local health investigators are examining all possibilities as the source of contamination.

The test of the ventilation system of Harvey Convention Center originally did not show water contamination, Ates said. However, to be sure, the health department, conducted a second test. The results of that test as of Wednesday had not been released by NET Health.

Ates said earlier that all possible sources of the contaminated water are being tested and that nothing yet had been ruled out.

Chris Van Deusen, director of media relations for the Texas Department of Health Services, said Wednesday that NET Health is serving as the lead agency conducting the search for the cause of the contaminated water.

The state health department is closely monitoring the outbreak and investigation, Van Deusen said. All cases of contagious disease must be reported to the state health department.

Ates said earlier that NET Health was collecting water samples to be tested and is questioning vendors and those who have contracted the disease.

The water samples that were collected are being tested for the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Van Duesen said.

Brown said that a health department representative questioned him about being at the fair.

“They wanted to know where I had been and what I had done,” Brown said. “They asked if I had been to a hot tub display or had used the water fountains.”

Brown said his kettle corn concession was near Harvey Convention Center and that every day he went into the center, which had booths operated by vendors and community groups, to cool off, get a drink of water or go to the public bathrooms.

He said he never entered most of the other buildings on the fairgrounds during the 10 days he was there.

Brown said that just inside one of the entrances to Harvey Convention Center was a display of hot tubs. He said he passed the display each time he entered and left the building, and that on some occasions he sat on a bench near the display.

On at least one occasion one of the hot tubs was running and a mist seemed to be in the air, he said.

Van Deusen said currently there is no requirement by the state that hot tubs used in public displays be tested for the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.

Brown also remembers someone using a pressure washer on the fairgrounds that could have generated a water vapor.

“I really believe I got it (Legionnaires’ disease) in that (Harvey Convention Center) building,” Brown said.

Gutierrez’s family said Gutierrez also was at the fair each day and that the Smith County Democratic Party information booth was near a hot tub display and under a ventilation vent.

Ruben Gutierrez became sick in the days after the fair and was admitted to a Tyler hospital. His family said he was diagnosed as having Legionnaires’ disease and that the illness led to other complications that caused his death.

His wife, Susan Gutierrez, said officials told her that they did not yet know the source of the contaminated water.

Last month, at least 141 people who attended the Mountain State Fair in Fletcher, North Carolina, contracted Legionnaires’ disease. Three of those people died and 94 were hospitalized, according to news reports.

The Associated Press reported that the outbreak was linked to a hot tub display at the fair.

As a food vendor, Brown said the often travels to fairs and community celebrations and never thought that attending such an event would expose him to the disease.

“I used to think it (possibility of getting Legionnaires’ disease) was not a big deal but this has got me to thinking about it.”

Danny Mogle has covered news in East Texas for decades. He currently focuses on arts, entertainment and human interest stories and serves as the editor of Lifestyles Magazine.

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